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Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee

Special Containers

Quick Link - Special Container Database

Please note the classification "calendar pack" was removed on 1st July 2012. For more information relating to this, please visit the Drug Tariff changes section.

Part II Clause 10A of the Drug Tariff sets out the rules for the quantity to be supplied of a product prescribed. Pharmacy contractors are normally reimbursed on the basis that the exact quantity ordered by the prescriber has been supplied unless the preparation has been recognised as being packaged in a special container.

A medicinal product is granted special container status in cases where it is not practical to split an original pack, for example where the product is sterile or hygroscopic. Part II Clause 10B of the Drug Tariff provides the criteria that a product pack must meet to be considered a special container. The manufacturer must provide evidence of a product's eligibility before the special container status can be granted.

Where the quantity ordered by the prescriber does not coincide with that of an original pack and the product is considered a special container, contractors are required to supply the special container or combination of containers nearest to the quantity ordered and endorse the prescription form with the number and size of these containers. Where the quantity ordered falls exactly between two containers, the contractor should round down the quantity dispensed to the nearest complete container. In calculating reimbursement, the special container rules are automatically applied and contractors will be reimbursed for the nearest pack or combination of packs.

The exception to this rule is where the quantity of a drug preparation reconstituted from granules or powder, for example a liquid antibiotic, is unavoidably greater than the quantity ordered and it is not possible for the contractor to use the remainder of the reconstituted product to fill another prescription. Payment in this scenario will be based on the nearest pack or number of packs necessary to cover the quantity ordered (Ref: Drug Tariff Part II Clause 13B).

In a small number of cases there is an over-riding clinical requirement to dispense the exact quantity ordered rather than the nearest pack, for example if there is a risk that the patient will abuse the medication or if the medicine is packaged into a weekly compliance aid. In cases where there is a clinical requirement to dispense the exact quantity ordered rather than the nearest pack, to protect against any suggestion of fraud, PSNC is advising contractors to dispense the prescribed quantity and endorse the prescription form clearly with the quantity supplied and the pack size used.

Following the removal of the calendar pack status, any products which are not considered to be special containers or items requiring reconstitution (Drug Tariff Part II, Clause 13, Reconsitution of Certain Oral Liquids) must be dispensed in the exact quantity prescribed and payment will be for that exact amount. For more information see the link to the July Drug Tariff changes at the top of the page.


More Information

For information on the status of a particular pack, please contact the PSNC Information Team.


Quantity to Supply: FAQs

How does a product get recognised as a special container?
NHS Prescription Services Pharmaceutical Directorate assesses products against the criteria set out in Part II, Clause 10 of the Drug Tariff. A pack can be granted special container status if the medicine or chemical reagent is:

1. Sterile
2. Effervescent or hygroscopic
3a. A liquid preparations for addition to bath water
3b. A Coal Tar preparation
3c A viscous external preparation
4. Or packed in a castor, collapsible tube, drop-bottle, pressurised aerosol, puffer pack, roll-on-bottle, sachet, shaker, spray, squeeze pack, container with an integral means of application or any other container form which it is not practical to dispense the exact quantity.

If there is a particular pack that does not currently have special container status and it meets these criteria, contact the PSNC Information Team on 0844 381 4180 / 0203 1220 810 and they can liaise with the manufacturer and make a request to the NHS Prescription Services for a change in the pack’s status as appropriate.

Please be aware that the manufacturer of the product must provide evidence of its eligibility and no products are automatically granted special container status.

If there is a particular pack that does not currently have special container status and it meets this criteria, contact the PSNC Information Team and they can liaise with the manufacturer and make a request to the NHSBSA Prescription Services for a change in the pack’s status as appropriate.

I have received a prescription for ‘30g Ibuprofen 10% gel’ but only the 100g pack size of this product is listed in Part VIIIA. How much should I dispense and how much will I be reimbursed?

Part VIII of the Drug Tariff contains the basic NHS reimbursement prices for products prescribed generically. Where an item is in Part VIII, contractors are reimbursed based on the Part VIII price.

In this example, only one pack size is listed in the Tariff (100g pack). As this pack is classed as a special container, a pharmacy would be reimbursed, based on the Drug Tariff price, to the nearest number of 100g packs to the quantity ordered. For example if 30g is ordered, the pharmacy will be reimbursed for a 100g pack, if 120g is ordered, the pharmacy will be reimbursed for a 100g pack.

From a legal perspective, contractors should ‘supply the special container or containers nearest to that ordered’. Ibuprofen 10% gel is available in a variety of pack sizes including 30g packs. Therefore, in this example, even though the contractor may be reimbursed for dispensing the 100g pack, the contractor should supply 30g as requested. To prevent any allegation of fraud, PSNC recommends that the prescription is clearly endorsed with the dispensed pack size.

I have received a prescription for 3ml Amorolfine 5% Paint. What should I dispense and how much will I be reimbursed?

Amorolfine 5% Paint is listed in the Drug Tariff therefore payment is based on the Part VIIIA Price for this product. As there is only one pack size currently listed in Part VIIIA and because this particular pack size is recognised as a special container, a contractor will be reimbursed at the Drug Tariff price for 5ml Amorolfine 5% Paint.

There are two products available which match the generic description. Loceryl which is available in a 5ml pack and Curanail which is available in a 3ml pack. Both packs are recognised by the Department of Health as special containers. Contractors should ‘supply the special container or containers nearest to that ordered’. Therefore even though the contractor will be reimbursed for dispensing the 5ml pack on this occasion, the contractor should supply the 3ml pack as requested, since this is nearest to that ordered. To prevent any allegation of fraud, PSNC recommends that the prescription is clearly endorsed with the dispensed pack size.

I have received an FP10 prescription for ‘160 Madopar 100mg/25mg capsules'. The lid of the product contains a desiccant. Would I be reimbursed for supplying 2x100 capsules?

No. There is a strict criteria, which can be found in Part II Clause 10 of the Drug Tariff, which the Department of Health use to determine whether a product should be considered to be packaged in a special container. Although Madopar preparations have integral desiccants in the lid, the manufacturer Roche has not been able to provide any evidence that these products are hygroscopic. Therefore, no Madopar preparations are classed as special containers.

Thus in this example, a contractor would be reimbursed for supplying 160 capsules against a prescription requesting 160 capsules. Broken bulk could be claimed on the residual balance.

I have received an FP10 Prescription for '36 Prograf (tacrolimus) Capsules 5mg', how many capsules should I dispense?

Prograf Capsules 5mg are available in boxes of 50 which is recognised as having ‘Special Container’ status.

In cases where the prescriber orders a quantity which does not coincide with an original pack and the product has been classed as a special container, the pharmacist should supply a special container or combination of special containers nearest to the quantity ordered (ie. In the prograf example, 1 box of 50 capsules should be supplied).

I’ve received a Hospital Prescription for 3 months supply of a drug, but the prescription has been stamped ‘Maximum 2 weeks supply’, how much should I dispense?

You should supply the quantity as ordered by the prescriber and ignore the stamp at the top of the prescription. The ‘Maximum 2 week supply’ stamp is only there as a guide for the prescriber and NHSBSA Prescription Services will pay for the quantity that the prescriber has ordered.

I have received an FP10 prescription for ’10 Ensure Plus Tetrapacks’. How many should I dispense, 10 or 40?

Ensure Plus is packaged in a 220ml tetra pack. A contractor dispensing this prescription would be reimbursed for a maximum of 10 x 220ml packs. The term tetrapack refers to the brand name of the packaging and should not be confused with the Greek word for the number four, tetra.

I have received an FP10 prescription for Oilatum Junior emollient bath additive 500ml, which has been discontinued by the manufacturer. Can I dispense the 600ml pack size?

No, this product is packaged in a special container. For special containers, the nearest container or containers to the prescribed quantity should be supplied. The 250ml pack size of Oilatum Junior emollient bath additive is still available so 2 x 250ml should be dispensed to meet the order. To dispense the 600ml pack size, the prescription would have to be returned to the prescriber for amendment.

I have received an FP10 prescription for '90ml Erythromycin 40mg/ml / Zinc acetate 12mg/ml lotion'. This product has special container status. I have dispensed three packs of 30ml. Is it okay to just endorse "90ml" on the prescription?

An unqualified number in the endorsement column could be misinterpreted by NHS Prescription Services, for example if "90ml" is endorsed, NHS Prescription Services may interpret this as the pack size used and reimbursement could be based on the price of one pack of 90ml rather than 3 packs of 30ml resulting in financial loss to the pharmacy contractor. The recommended endorsement format in this scenario is "/" (e.g. "90ml/30ml"). 

I have received an FP10 prescription for '140ml Amoxicillin 125mg/5ml oral suspension'. What quantity will I be reimbursed for dispensing?

The pharmacy would be reimbursed for dispensing 2 x 100ml. 

There is an antibiotic rule which means that where the quantity of a drug preparation reconstituted from granules or powder is unavoidably greater than the quantity ordered and it is not possible for the contractor to use the remainder of the reconstituted product to fill another prescription, payment will be based on the nearest pack or number of packs necessary to cover the quantity ordered. This is outlined in full in the Drug Tariff, Part II, Clause 13B.

Under this rule, in the situation described above where the quantity ordered falls between two packs (the Drug Tariff listing is for a 100ml pack size), the contractor can round up to dispense the nearest complete container as it is important for patients on antibiotics to cover the complete course of treatment prescribed. Reimbursement for dispensing two packs will be automatic under these rules, but, as is usual with Part VIII products, it is good practice to endorse the prescription to declare the total amount dispensed over the pack size used.

Medicines which are recognised as "items requiring reconstitution" are marked in the Drug Tariff with a small black circle next to the drug name.

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